Monday, March 10, 2014

Investigation into MAS Flight MH370 should mobilise media and netizens to launch worldwide appeal for info

After the Little India Riot in Singapore last December, Singapore authorities could have done more to tap crowd-sourced intelligence to help piece together what happened that fateful night, just like how the Boston police mobilised all Bostonians as crime fighters after last April's Boston Marathon Bombing.

That faith in the public furnished United States investigators with invaluable leads - and we all know how that story ended.

We learnt an important lesson in information management from these incidents and would like to share this perspective with our friends in Malaysia as they reconstruct the last moments of Malaysia Airlines (MAS) Flight MH370.

Whatever the intentions of the two (or more?) individuals who boarded MH370 with improper immigration documents, it would not be a breach of operational security (opsec) if images of the individuals concerned are shared with the public via the media.

* If the individuals had accomplices, their co-conspirators would doubtless be forewarned that Malaysian authorities have uncovered their modus operandi for boarding the MAS airliner (note: this does not mean we know how the airliner went missing). This means that publicising their faces would not compromise opsec in any way as any co-authors to the deed already know who the two individuals are.

* If there is nothing more sinister than an immigration offence, then widespread publicity would not hurt anyone - not least because the two individuals along with 237 other people on MH370 are still missing.

Photo bomb
What do people do at airports when sending off their loved ones?  Many take pictures. Some shoot video. Inevitably, other people are captured in the background. Look at what happened during the Boston Marathon.

Malaysian authorities should seriously consider telling the public which check-in counters at KLIA were used for MH370 and the counters for neighbouring flights flanking the MH370 counters. Don't just give counter numbers. These are meaningless to people who visit airports only occasionally. Sketch it out on a floor plan which the media or netizens can circulate. An immediate, nation-wide appeal for information should then be broadcast. This would urge people who were at KLIA on Friday evening to scour their picture libraries and submit their images/video footage to PDRM.

It is true that travellers who took the flights that originated from KLIA late Friday night or early Saturday morning would have been scattered all over the planet. These travellers are out of reach of Bernama. But they are well within reach of the Internet and the appeal for help can go worldwide, round-the-clock, instantaneously. When word gets out, your search turns into a global face hunt.

What could result from all this? Possibly masses of meaningless selfies, family pictures, inane videos of happy travellers who enjoyed their stay in Malaysia.

Quite possibly, you may get nothing.

But if there is even a smidgen of chance that the two immigration offence suspects could have photo bombed someone's pictures unintentionally, then that image would be worth something to investigators.

Along the way, the publicity may trigger memories from teksi drivers, hoteliers, retail staff, bus drivers.... you get the picture. These collective memories - meaningless as standalone snapshots of what certain individuals did at some point in time - could help investigators retrace how they got to KLIA and what they did in Malaysia.

A respected force
As a police force, PDRM has an awesome reputation that is resoundingly endorsed by its record of  successful cases solved. Its best investigators doubtless know what needs to be done to find out what happened to MAS Flight MH370.

But as Singapore has learnt, help from the Rakyat and the media can provide telltale signs of what happened. These are small pieces to the puzzle that help you join the dots.

One other key lesson we learnt is that crowd-sourced intel has a shelf life because people's memories turn fuzzy over time. There is also a real risk that people may delete images that are not nice enough because other people are in the frame or because it wasn't composed well enough.  Such shots could prove invaluable, indeed priceless.

This is why any appeal for help from the Rakyat or media should be initiated as soon as possible after investigators are sure they have nailed down the faces of the individuals who spirited themselves onboard using improper immigration documents.

Low cost, potentially high returns. Isn't this worth a try?


Amanda Lu said...

wow such an "expert".

the unknown said...

Just an update, such public consultations are already being carried out, with the DigitalGlobe satellite firm crowdsourcing possible leads from its satellite imagery of the area.